Sir Richard Branson, the flamboyant United Kingdom entrepreneur behind the Virgin brand of business, has now launched Virgin Media, which is being seen as a challenge to Rupert Murdoch‘s Sky.
He has predicted that the new company, formed with the merger of the cable television company NTL Telewest and Virgin's mobile phone division, will shake up the home entertainment industry.
Virgin Media will offer customers a bundle of cable television, video on demand, broadband, mobile and fixed line phone services. "For the first time there is a single brand set to provide a more extensive range of television entertainment, broadband and communication services than previously offered by anyone in the UK," said Sir Branson.
The group is also planning to launch an interactive, TV-on-demand cable channel called Virgin Central this month, which will offer viewers access to an archive of former television shows, including Little Britain, West Wing and Nip/Tuck.
Far from displaying a frontrunner's complacency, Murdoch's BSkyB responded within hours of the Virgin Media press conference, with the surprise announcement that it was creating a subscription service for terrestrial digital television – digital television available via a roof top antenna.
Customers who sign up for the new Sky package will get a handful of sports, entertainment and movie channels directly through their antennas for a monthly subscription.
The three Sky channels currently provided free of cost on Freeview, its terrestrial digital TV service, will no longer be available.
Television specialists said the announcements from BSkyB and Virgin Media signal the increasingly fierce competition for television viewers and internet users.
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